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SOCCER

Tchouaméni and Real Madrid’s No.18 evil hoodoo

Julien Faubert and Jonathan Woodgate both wore the No.18 shirt at Real Madrid. In the new millennium no player has triumphed with it. Bale was the last to wear it.

Update:
Florentino Pérez y Aurélien Tchouaméni.
Antonio VillalbaREAL MADRID

During his official presentation in Valdebebas earlier this week, Aurelien Tchouaméni used the word “challenge” up to four times - oblivious to the fact that maybe the biggest task he faces will be to make a success of wearing the infamous number 18 shirt at Real Madrid. Perhaps he was unaware of the No.18′s checkered history - or maybe he is just a very brave man. In recent years, no player has triumphed at the Bernabéu with that number on their back. It’s almost as if it’s cursed. The last player to wear the No.18 was Gareth Bale, who was cajoled into taking it after Marco Asensio pinched his No.11 squad number when he moved to Tottenham on a season-long loan. On his return, he discovered his old shirt number has been taken.

Wearing the No.18 didn’t bring Bale much luck during his final season in Madrid. He left the club via the back door - without a fanfare, missed the the celebrations for LaLiga with a sore back and picked up a Champions League winners’ medal having played a total of just seven minutes of the tournament. Fans in the south stand of the Bernabéu chanted his name during the party for the Decimocuarto and he acknowledged them but without addressing them directly on the mic. The only words we got from Bale were in a statement on social media. With the No.18, Bale played a total of 290 minutes in official competition last season - the member of the first team squad to have participated the least, behind Mariano (397), Lunin (390′), Vallejo (353′) and Ceballos (338′).

Marcos Llorente.
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Marcos Llorente.Javier GandulDiario As

Faubert and Woodgate

But there were many more before him. Starting in reverse order, before Bale there was Luka Jovic, who had to return to Eintracht Frankfurt on loan to get playing time after being ostracized at Madrid. He had inherited the shirt from Marcos Llorente... who wore the No.18 briefly, before packing his bags to join crosstown rivals Atlético. He took the No.18 from Mariano Díaz, who wore it during the 2016-17 season - a season in which he scored five goals in 302 minutes of playing time. Deprived of opportunities, he left after just one year with the senior side to join Olympique Lyon. Going further back, there are other players who suffered the curse of the No.18 shirt.

Some managed to escape the jinx - Lucas Vázquez and Nacho Fernández were both assigned the No.18 when they were just breaking into the first team. But curiously, the careers took off when they switched to different squad numbers - Lucas taking the number 17 and Nacho, number 6. Prior to them, it was owned by centre-back Raúl Albiol, whose best years were not with Madrid. Los Blancos paid Valencia 15 million euros for him in the summer of 2009 and four years and 118 games later, sold him to Napoli for 12 million.

Julien Faubert and Alfredo Di Stefano.
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Julien Faubert and Alfredo Di Stefano.

That could have been a key moment. Albiol inherited the shirt from Julien Faubert, a player that Madrid fans will never forget - but not for his displays out on the pitch. He made the headlines for a number of incidents - famously for supposedly dozing off in the dug-out during a game at El Madrigal (he vehemently denied the claim to this day: “I closed my eyes for 30 seconds and everyone assumed I was asleep,” he said in his defence). His six-month loan cost 1.5 million euros and Madrid ended up paying 28,000 euros for every minute he spent on-field - 54 (30 minutes in a home game against Racing and 24 minutes at San Mamés).

Just one month before Faubert joined in the January window, the No.18 was assigned to Rubén de la Red who, as we all know, sadly had to pack in football due to a heart problem. His cardic issues were only discovered after he collapsed on the pitch during a Copa del Rey tie in Irun. Before him, two forwards had the shirt - Javier Saviola (three goals in 17 appearances) and Antonio Cassano (two goals in 12...) The Italian had taken over the squad number from Jonathan Woodgate, arguably the player to have suffered the most inauspicious (and most comical) debut in Real Madrid’s history. Madrid had paid 22 million euros for the England international, who spent just two seasons at the club. Woody was injured for the whole of his first season and when the time came for him to make his long-awaited debut, against Athletic Club, he scored an own goal on 25 minutes and was sent off on 66 minutes.

Jonathan Woodgate.
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Jonathan Woodgate. Denis DoyleGetty Images

Tchouaméni tasked with breaking the curse

Strange things happen when Real Madrid players slip on the No.18 shirt, and now the most recent arrival Tchouaméni has to break the hoodoo. He explained this week, “I wore the No.8 for many years but Kroos has it at Madrid. When I arrived, I was presented with the available squad numbers and they told me that the No.18 was free. I chose it because it’s the most similar to the No.8″.

The same number was worn by players who had emerged from the youth team like Javier Portillo, well-known faces like Aitor Karanka or Víctor Sánchez and Rafael Alkorta. Now its owner is a 22-year-old French midfielder from Rouen, who Madrid have invested 100 million euros in (between fixed fee and bonuses). Tchouaméni now knows the history of the infamous No.18 shirt and there’s no way of backtracking. Now he must break the curse - perhaps it is the ultimate challenge.

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